We're all guilty of procrastination.
We start the day with the intention of doing one thing, and it gets pushed off for later in the day. Then the next day. And soon after, the next week.
It's a never-ending cycle that never seems to get any easier.
Let's dig deeper into how you can stop procrastinating.
1. Discover Your One Thing
Your one thing is a task or activity that has the biggest impact toward your end-result or goal.
Many studies have shown that analysis paralysis is one of the leading causes of procrastination.
Focusing on only one important task, and dedicating time in your day to moving it forward, can significantly increase your effectiveness.
If you're not sure what your one thing is, Tim Ferriss has a simple framework to help you decide. I'll summarize it here:
a. Write down no more than three to five things that are making you most uncomfortable or anxious. These are usually tasks that may result in rejection or conflict, yet are the most important.
b. For each item, ask yourself:
- "If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?"
- "Will moving this forward make all the other to-do's unimportant or easier to knock off later?"
c. Look at the tasks you've said yes to. And schedule two to three hours (or however long you need) to complete one of these tasks today. No more than one.
If you ever get distracted, which is inevitable, you can simply come back to your one thing and gently get back on track.
2. Break It Down
I remember first starting Jumpspeak, and while the vision we had was grand and ambitious, it was also overwhelming.
Our brains aren't naturally wired to see the long-term outcome, especially if we're nowhere near achieving the goal.
We often face internal doubt, and this fear prevents us from starting in the first place.
Break it down, and take it one bite at a time.
For instance, if your goal is to speak Spanish, it can be frightening to think about.
But you can start by breaking it down and scheduling 60 minutes every morning before work to memorize 30 of the most common words.
By the end of 90 days, you would have memorized 2,700 words.
The trick is to think small, and break it down into the tiny actionable to-do's until you no longer feel the fear of starting.
3. Say No
New activities or tasks are thrown at us on a constant basis.
It could be your boss who wants you to complete a report, a client who's asking for your support -- the list goes on.
We must learn to say no to the activities that aren't bringing our goals forward.
To do this effectively, you can use a framework called the Eisenhower matrix, a decision-making tool that divides your tasks into four quadrants based on urgency and importance. Here's a plan of action for each quadrant:
- Urgent and Important: Do it immediately.
- Non-Urgent and Important: Decide when you'll do it.
- Urgent and Non-Important: Delegate to someone else.
- Non-Urgent and Non-Important: Do it later.
To truly make the most of our time, we should maximize our time spent by scheduling a few hours each day on quadrant two.
4. Forgive Yourself
Let's face it. We're only human, and none of us are perfect.
But the last thing we want to do is get hung-up on blaming ourselves.
A study was done on college students at Carleton University during their mid-term exams. It was found that self-forgiveness for procrastinating on a given task is related to less procrastination on a similar task in the future. This is because the relationship between self-forgiveness and procrastination is mediated by negative effect, such that self-forgiveness can help us to stop procrastinating by reducing negative emotions.
Next time you find yourself procrastinating, forgive yourself, and move on. As Jim Beaver wrote in his memoir, Life's That Way:
Forgiveness is not something we do for other people.
We do it for ourselves to get well and move on.
5. Just Start
In the TV industry, a popular method for getting us to continue watching a show is the cliffhanger. If you've ever seen the TV series 24, then you should be well experienced in the cliffhanger.
They do this because it kills us not to finish what we started.
Once we start something -- a TV show, language learning, project -- the task at hand is going to continue to nibble in the back of our minds until we finish the activity.
This is called the Zeigarnik effect, named after the psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik.
Procrastination is at its worst before we've started, simply because we don't know where or how to start. Studies show that our perception of the task changes after we start, and we often end up enjoying the task.
What the Zeigarnik effect teaches us is that you should just start anywhere, and leverage the weakness (or strength) of our natural tendency to finish what we started.